Anti-whaling activists aboard the Sea Shepherd have found their Moby Dick, uncovering and interrupting a Japanese whaling fleet at the start of the new season.

The Sea Shepherd crew have tracked down their nemesis earlier than usual, allowing them a long time to interfere with the whaling activities in the Southern Ocean.

Already the conservationists have released footage showing at least three dead Minke whales on the deck of the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru.

As well as filming the capture and execution of the rare and endangered species, the Sea Shepherd has chased the whalers out of the Antarctic Treaty Area; a protected zone within which the Japanese ship was undertaking its 'scientific' annual slaughter of whales.

Japan's continued claim that its whaling program has a scientific purpose has been slammed by large sections of the research community.

The Australian government may begin doing its part to help, though it is unclear exactly when.

Before the federal election late last year, Greg Hunt said Australia “should stop turning a blind eye to whaling in our waters and should have a Customs vessel in the Southern Ocean.”

Now the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt has dialled-down the proposed effort, saying the Australian Government will monitor whaling activities with a surveillance plane. The plane has not yet been spotted by anyone in the whaling zones.

The Government has lodged its opposition to the annual Japanese program, and the scientific needs it allegedly fulfils, in the International Court of Justice. A ruling is expected in the coming year, closer to the end of the current whaling season.

For now the crew of the Steve Irwin and other Sea Shepherd vessels will continue trying to reduce the number of whales Japanese crews are able to take. Captain Siddharth Chakravarty says “we're returning back to the ice edge to stand guard.”

“Should the whaling ships return again we'll be there to drive them out again from the sanctuary.”